It was another sunny Saturday in Austin. Nothing out of the ordinary, except for my dad telling all of us kids, “We’re going to the park!” For my dad to initiate any type of activity that required going to a park was very rare. In retrospect, he must have gotten some action at Friday nights “meeting” after work. Moving on. A trip to the park for us meant that we would be doing one of two things while there. Hitting a ball with a bat or lawn darts.
My fathers’ perpetual fear of exercise forced him to find alternative ways to participate in the sports he enjoyed. For example, my father likes basketball. It’s not on the top of his list but he likes to watch. The comparable activity for him…the video arcade hoops game called ‘Nutin But Net’. And he was miserably horrible at it. He blamed the rim being a smaller diameter than standard, and the balls were too small. He was right, his logic was wrong. The same for football, Nerf in the front yard. And finally baseball. My father had an obsession with baseball. He even tried out for minor leagues before I was born. Later in life he applied for a job with the Cincinnati Reds during the Pete Rose days he didn’t get it but the organization was thankful for his interest. Give my dad a bat and a ball and this is were my he could swing a bat and hit a ball as far as he could. The trouble was he could not coordinate himself enough to throw a baseball up in the air and swing a bat at the ball to hit it. None of us kids could pitch worth a damn.
Imagine three children being ordered to head about 100 yards away in three different locations. Right field, middle field and left field. My dad made his children the OUT fielders for his egocentric game of baseball. It was 147 degrees in Austin most summers, try standing in a field using your oversized catchers mitt to block the sun from burning the eyes out of your head. While my sisters and I staved of mosquitos and ran away from flying grass hoppers. My father would stand at a beer can on the ground signifying home plate throwing a baseball into the air and swinging at it with all his might. Time and time again he would miss the ball, pick it up, throw it in the air, swing at it again, miss and repeat the process. Occasionally when he missed he would bang the bat into the ground leaving a divot in the dry sand. What was really funny was when he would miss the ball, swing the bat towards the ground and hit “home plate” spraying beer all over his jeans and boots. Usually that signified the end of that. No hits, no runs, no outs. Just another day at the diamond with my dad and his dreams.
Jeans? Boots? Yes my father found it mandatory to wear jeans or “Wranglers” as he referred to them. like rich people don’t wash their car, they wash their Porsche. My dad wore his boots just about everywhere we went, including he hot ass park. Until the day he shocked us all.
Back to the beginning where my dad annonced, “We’re going to the park!” My sisters and I start to gather the baseball equipment, the lawn darts, the red coleman cooler for beer and grape soda. My oldest sister would make a variety of Carl Buddig lunch meat sandwhiches. A couple with mustard and a couple with mayonnaise. By now the car is packed and we are ready to go.
The door to the master bedroom slowly opened, but there was nobody there. This often happened because my dad was forgetful and would start to walk out of a door and forget something and turn back to get it leaving the door way empty. Then he emerged. All 6’ 3” of my father stepped into the living room and our jaws dropped. We could see his legs. YES! My father was wearing shorts. We had no idea he had actual legs. Silence filled the room. He stood there, tugging on his tube socks with red and yellow rings around the calves. His shoes were not boots instead they were rubber soled cleats. His legs bowed out dramatically from one another. One would think he had a horse. The shorts were blue and revealing about 55% of his thigh. By todays standards that’s a little too much thigh for a man. Magic Johnson and Isaiah Thomas were the only black men that could pull that look off. The hair on my fathers legs was clustered together in little balls all over the place. It looked like someone had stuck taco meat to his skin. After the shock wore off my sisters and I laughed at him hysterically. Then we got scared and ran to the car, got in shut the doors and waited. We didn’t mind that the inside of the car was like a convection oven. This time to ourselves gave us an opportunity to talk as much shit about him as possible.
My dad presented to the car with his aviators, his baseball shirt, his baseball socks and his “Studio 54” shorts carrying a Nike duffel bag. ”What’s in the bag?” I asked. His Typical response, “Stuff.” My dad opened the drivers’ side door and sat in down into the seat. Under his breath he muttered, “Shhhhhiit! Got Damn!” In the many years past my father has forgotten the number one rule about wearing shorts in Texas and getting into a black Buick town car with leather seats. You’re gonna burn your balls off. Us kids didn’t laugh, we just dropped our heads and looked at each other with little smirks on our faces.
We got to Zilker Park. We start to get our stuff from the car and look for a shady spot with a bench to put the cooler on. I begin to unload the gloves and balls from the trunk of the car. My dad stops me and hands me the bag of “stuff”. Inside I find two new gloves and several baseballs the size of grapefruits. I ask what happened to the baseballs and my dad replied, “Those are softballs.” Holds his hand out and I toss him one. I remember it felt lighter and softer than a normal baseball. He grabs a bat and a beer and heads out to the sun. His legs looked like parenthesis as he walked away. He ordered us out to our normal positions in the out field. None of us were anticipating much like a typical day at the park.
Suddenly out of no where we hear a crack of the bat. It sounded like someone hit a pinata full of lotion. We look up and screaming into the sky is a soft ball with white flash of light. The ball begins it’s parabolic crest at about 400 feet then turns back towards the earth at about 225 miles an hour. It’s headed right for my sister to my left. She scrambles for position to put herself under the ball and block the sun with her glove at the same time. As the altitude of the ball reaches about 80 feet we could all hear this psssssshhhhhhhh noise coming from the ball. That was re-entry shit right there. Things that only NASA hears. My sister panicked and looked away then back at the ball, it was right there! She dives out of the way as the ball screams past her feet and lodges itself into directly into the earth No bounce, no roll just a swift pssssshhhhh THUD.
My sister gets to her feet and dusts her self off. My other sister and I run over dropping our gloves to make sure she was okay. We surround the ball staring down at it like the ball just dropped from space. I’m pretty sure there was smoke coming off of it. All of our minds are completely blown away. We turn and look back at our father who was standing there with his bat perched on his shoulder. He looks back at us, drops the bat off his shoulder and uses it as a cane so he can bend over and pick up “home plate” and takes a long hard swig. He uses the bat to knock the dust off his cleats and says, “I told you to go out!” My sister looks at the two of us says, “He looks so stupid in those shorts.”
I love you Dad.